What’s under your feet is as important as anything when it comes to home. That’s why this fall, we collaborated with The Home Depot on an A to Z guide that’ll give you the confidence to make flooring choices you’ll love. Check out the A to Z handbook here.
Tile has one of the biggest personalities of the flooring world—and loves to be the center of attention. It always draws plenty of “oohs!” and “ahhs!” from visitors, whether it’s featured in a splashy entryway or a serene bathroom.
It’s time, though, that these showpieces start sharing the spotlight—and credit!—with their sidekick: grout. The Home Depot is a veritable one-stop shop for tilework, whether you plan to hire a professional or DIY a tile floor (or even a backsplash or shower). Knowing a thing or two about grouting will help you either way.
The project dictates grout type
Typically sold in just-add-water powder form or pre-mixed, grout is a mixture of cement, sand, and water that fills in the grooves between each tile. It comes in a variety of hues and can significantly change the look of tile, whether by adding a deeper level of contrast (think white subway tile, black grout) or complementing it for a more uniform look (white subway tile, white grout).
Sanded grout is used when joints—the space between the tiles—are greater than 1/8” and is the go-to for most flooring projects due to the fact it’s more resistant to cracking. Unsanded grout, on the other hand, is a thinner consistency, and better suited for vertical tile-work, like a back splash. (An exception to the rule is when you’re working with a softer material like marble, which needs unsanded grout due to its delicate nature.)
Color and spacing go hand in hand
When it comes to selecting a color, consider that grout will likely darken overtime thanks to dirt brought in from foot traffic. And there’s also the grout-to-tile ratio to be aware of. With smaller tiles, the grout lines will be more prominent because the tiles themselves take up less space. The two will work more in tandem than with larger tiles, where the grout will take more of a backseat.
1/8” is the standard spacing for a flooring grout line, but will depend on the type of tile, its size, and the pattern being created. (In general, you’re never going to dip below 1/8” for flooring, but could have a grout line that’s 1/4” or 1/2”.) Using spacers—like those shown below—will ensure an even grout-line throughout the project, so unless you really trust yourself, don’t attempt to freestyle.
The right tools make things easier
If you plan to DIY, thinking about tile and grout as two parts of an aesthetic whole can make the installation process easier. “When you’re laying tile, keep a bristle brush with you and a bucket of water,” counsels general contractor Mark Clements, who uses the brush to remove any excess mortar when installing the tiles prior to the grouting stage. “That will save you a day when you get ready to grout.”
Unless purchased pre-mixed, it’s important to thoroughly mix your grout according to the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure the most colorfast and consistent result possible. After all, no one is on the hunt for tie-dye grout. After mixing, grout rests for a while to allow the water to fully penetrate the dry ingredients, a process known as “slaking.”
Working quickly is key
Then, the spreading process begins. Working in a manageably small-sized section (think 3’ x 3’ at most) and using a special, trowel-like tool known as a “grout float,” spread the grout as evenly as possible over the empty spaces between the tiles at a 90-degree angle, filling in the joints while wiping away excess grout. The grout will begin to harden after a few minutes—success is near!—but the next step is one that often hangs up DIYers.
Using a “grout sponge” (essentially, a heavy-duty kitchen sponge), wipe the tiles in a circular motion, paying extra attention not to disrupt the edges of the grout line. Being careful is the name of the game here: you can end up spreading wet grout around on the tile and making messy, excess work. Fortunately, general contractor Joe Truini has a trick.
“The grout sponge rapidly becomes saturated with grout—you can only wipe the sponge across so much and it’s full, and then you’re just moving it around,” he says. “So, the formula for wiping down grout is count, ‘One, two—flip the sponge—three, ring it out.’” This process of wiping and rinsing may need to be repeated several times, especially if you are using dark-colored grout that is green or black.
Once you’ve “one, two, flipped” with success and the grout has dried (about 24 hours), the tiles will likely be left with a film called “grout haze” on them. This can be cleaned with several different types of specialty products, but wiping with a damp towel, then buffing with a dry one, typically works just as well.
Don’t forget to seal
And as you bask in the glow of the perfectly matched tile-and-grout pairing that now make up your new floor (or shower, or backsplash), be sure to take the time to seal the grout, which is porous and needs extra protection from the elements—particularly in moisture-heavy areas like bathrooms. Truini favors a quarter inch or narrower artist’s brush, and recommends using two coats the first time and resealing your grout once a year.
The relationship between grout and tile is one of give and take—choosing complementary colors, styles, and patterns—as well as one of mutual respect, which ensures that the grout is given as much attention as the tile during both installation and in the years to come. And if that happens? You’ve got yourself the beginning of a beautiful flooring friendship.